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    Wednesday, 26 July 2017

    Legend of Calcio: Ronaldo

    Strong, powerful, devastatingly clinical, and for many people the original and best, Ronaldo was one of the finest players in football history and during his time in Serie A he became arguably the most complete forward ever.
    Unable to even gain a trial with many of the top clubs in his home city of Rio De Janeiro due to his inability to pay the bus fare, Ronaldo signed his first professional contract with Cruzeiro at the age of 16 after two years with his local side Sao Cristovao.
    Soon enough Ronaldo’s iconic gap-toothed grin became customary viewing for Raposa fans as he scored an incredible 57 goals in just 59 matches during his time with Cruzeiro picking up a Copa do Brasil and gaining a place in the Brazil squad for the 1994 World Cup in the United States at the age of just 17.
    Despite a host of clubs vying for his signature, Ronaldo’s adventure on the shores of Europe began with PSV Eindhoven in the Netherlands.
    Any doubts as to whether he could replicate his prolific form in the testing European stage were immediately shattered where in a blistering first season in the Netherlands he continued to average almost a goal per game, notching up 30 goals in just 33 games to become the Eredivisie’s top goalscorer in his maiden season, alas PSV could only muster a third-place finish in a season where Louis Van Gaal’s legendary Ajax side went onto win the league and Champions League.
    The next season saw Ronaldo blighted by injury, not for the first time in his career, but he still carried on his sensational form scoring 12 goals in 13 matches leading PSV to the Dutch FA Cup as well as the Dutch Super Cup.
    Such devastating form did not go unnoticed and after two seasons in Eindhoven, he became the most expensive player in football history when he joined Spanish giants Barcelona.
    Under the guidance of Bobby Robson and assistant Jose Mourinho, he scored an astonishing 47 goals in 49 games for the Blaugrana including an unforgettable goal against Compostela, where, beginning from inside his own half and evading the cynical shirt-pulling of his rival, he stampeded past the entire defence, drove his way into the box, used his phenomenal control to evade another two markers and swivelled to fire the ball into the bottom left-hand corner.
    The Spanish season ran very long into June 1997, and as a result overlapped with Ronaldo’s foray into the Copa America with Brazil. Deprived of their talisman, Barcelona fell to a 2-1 defeat against Hercules, a loss that ultimately cost them the title.
    Despite his vast goal tally, Ronaldo was often plagued by accusations about his work-rate and whether his heart truly was with Barcelona, even Jose Mourinho had warned him: “it’s no good scoring a wonder goal and spending the other 89 minutes sleeping.”
    Incredibly he was not even selected as the supporters choice for player of the year at Barcelona, and was soon blighted by rumours concerning his future. Those rumours looked to have been quashed when club president Josep Lluis Nunez boasted that he’d be at the Catalan giants for life having agreed a new contract until 2006, nothing was further from the truth as the very next day the deal collapsed.
    He was then snapped up by Inter, again for a world record transfer fee, where he soon got to grips with the style of the Italian game and became affectionately known by the press as Il Fenomeno.
    In the season ahead of the 1998 World Cup in France, he had won his second World Player of the Year award in 1997 and also hit 34 goals for the Nerazzurri who went onto win the UEFA Cup Final 3-0 against Lazio where the forward scored another sensational goal.
    Having made his mark during a great debut season in Italy, Ronaldo went into the 1998 World Cup largely billed in the global media as the greatest player in the world. He struck four goals and made three assists as Brazil swept their way to the final against France.
    In what was at the time the biggest match so far in his career: tragedy struck. On the eve of the game Ronaldo suffered a convulsive fit and coach Mario Zagallo had no option but to omit him from the Brazilian starting eleven. Controversially, Zagallo relented amid substantial pressure from the player himself who was desperate to showcase his ability on sport’s greatest stage.
    It was not to be. An under-par Ronaldo was eclipsed by Zinedine Zidane, who would himself go on to claim World Player of the Year, as France ran out 3-0 winners to claim the World Cup for the first time in their history.
    He soon eased back into club football, and fans of the Nerazzurri quickly became used to the iconic celebration where Ronaldo would stretch out his arms akin to the Christ the Redeemer statue that towers over Rio De Janeiro.
    But in a match against Lecce in 1999, the Brazilian forward endured yet another setback when he ruptured a tendon in his knee, when the problem recurred in April 2000, it was clear that the injury could have been career threatening.
    It was not until the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea that Ronaldo would return to a decent physical condition, and in his absence from the qualification campaign, Brazil had stumbled into the tournament in desperate form.
    In a career as illustrious as that of Ronaldo’s, it is hard to pinpoint one achievement that ranks far above all others, but Il Fenomeno’s sensational comeback from a devastating injury to go to the tournament in Asia and score eight goals as the Brazilians recorded an historic fifth World Cup triumph, is surely a feat that topples all others.
    As a result, he would scoop the World Player of the Year award for a third time, an achievement that he dedicated to his medical team.
    After the tournament he would swap Italy for a return to Spain, albeit with Barcelona’s deadly rivals Real Madrid as part of a €46m transfer. Indeed sales of Ronaldo’s shirt broke all records in one day as he joined the likes of Figo and Zidane as part of Los Blancos’ Gal├ícticos revolution.
    Ronaldo went onto win the Primera Division during his first season at Madrid and became the fifth foreigner in the club’s illustrious history to score over a century of goals during his four and a half year stay in the Spanish capital.
    Approaching the 2006 World Cup in Germany, and again despite vast success in Spain he had again been the subject of criticism due to persistent injuries and an ever expanding waistline.
    Even turning out for Brazil was no haven from the torrent of abuse Ronaldo was receiving about his weight, but coach Carlos Alberto Perreira decided to stick by Il Fenomeno who scored another three goals to become the highest goalscorer in World Cup history: a record that was ironically ended on Brazilian soil last summer when Miroslav Klose scored twice in Germany’s 7-1 win against the Selecao.
    But Brazil could only reach the quarter-finals in Germany, eventually losing out 1-0 to France, and Ronaldo returned to Madrid with his match time dramatically reduced amid the signing of Dutch international Ruud Van Nistelrooy.
    Clearly unfazed by representing both sides of a football rivalry, mid-way through the 2006/07 season Ronaldo joined AC Milan becoming one of few players to represent both sides in the Derby della Madonnina and along with Zlatan Ibrahimovic one of only two players to score representing each side in the derby.
    Already cup-tied from earlier in the season with Real Madrid, Il Fenomeno could not represent Milan as they won the Champions League in 2007 meaning among all the honours he received, he will also be remembered for never winning Europe’s premier competition.
    Consistent injuries had eventually defeated Ronaldo and after being released at Milan for a brief stint for a return to his homeland with Corinthians, it was on February 14 2011 that Ronaldo bid farewell to an unbelievable career citing that despite a will to carry on he had “lost to his body”.
    Sometimes in football representing two sides of a particular divide is a thankless task. The previous supporters who used to fight among each other to merely get your autograph treat you with utter contempt. Years of service can be erased from living memory.
    Even your new supporters, who used to detest the very sight of you, can make football a very lonely and unaccommodating place as they find it difficult to accept anyone who used to be associated with the enemy. It takes a player of truly epic proportions to transcend bitter football rivalries, Ronaldo was so good that he was able to transcends not just one: but two.
    Indeed it is an honour for any supporter to say Il Fenomeno ever wore their club shirt.

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